Ԫ Slide Show: Intel Science Winners



Project AN OPTICAL LOOP FOR COMPUTING

When Albert showed up at Eric Mazur's physics lab at Harvard University for the summer of 2004, he really didn't know what he wanted to do. But with so much high-tech optical equipment around, he was soon perfecting better methods of fabricating ultrafine optical fibers. In fact, Albert is so skillful he can pull silica fibers thinner than 100 nanometers. Only an elite handful of researchers worldwide can do this.

How small is 100 nanometers? Try 100,000 times thinner than a human hair. But here's the important metric: It's even smaller than wavelengths of light. That means light can't travel inside such a fiber, it has to travel on it, scooting along the outside surface.

"This led to some crazy ideas," he says, "and I wanted to try them in a project of my own." He got the go-ahead, knowing full well that his project involved technology that has stymied lots of researchers for a long time: optical computers. If all the silicon transistors and metal wires in today's computers could be replaced with optical counterparts, the resulting beast might be around 10,000 times faster.

That's still a dream, but Albert figures that ultrathin nanofibers could be the ticket for making optical logic switches. The concept is simple enough: Because light skims along the surface of his fibers, making contact in a loop in the fiber will interfere with the flow and selectively filter out certain colors. Developing a way to control whether the loops make contact or not could be the real challenge, of course. But Albert has another crazy idea: Use magnetic bacteria.


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COMMENTS On The Issues

Where would the extra R&D funds come from? From funds saved by conserving on all other areas.

INTEL SCIENCE SEARCH FINALIST Albert Tsao

Albert Tsao


Essay:

Banish Boredom from the Classroom


Montgomery Blair High School
Silver Spring, Md.


Hobbies: Football, violin


Ambition: Research, perhaps physics